July 24, 2007

E verbis fatuos, ex aure tenemus asellum

In English: We hold a donkey by the ear; we hold fools by their words.

After yesterday's proverb about how the walls have ears, I thought I would dedicate this week to proverbs about ears!

Today's proverb provides a very elegant parallel. Note that, as often in Latin, the verb is not repeated in the parallel phrases: (tenemus) e verbis fatuos, ex aure tenemus asellum. The idea is that donkeys need to be held because they are stubborn and stupid and prone to do things we don't want them to do - but fortunately they come equipped with long ears, so that we can grasp them and grab them. Fools, like donkeys, may not have ears we can grab, but they have notoriously big mouths, and exactly because they talk too much we can grab hold of the foolish things they say and attempt to keep them out of trouble!

Although this saying is not especially famous, it made its way into the Latin textbook Scalae novae, or, A ladder to Latin by D'Arcy Thompson (1829-1902), father of the even more famous Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), who went on to a remarkable scholar of both the classics and the modern life sciences. Thanks to the miracle of Google Books, you can now read this long out-of-print textbook by Thompson Père online. (Thanks very much to the anonymous commenter, see below, who helped me sort out father and son!)

Meanwhile, prick up your ears for today's proverb read out loud:

1470. E verbis fatuos, ex aure tenemus asellum.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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4 comments:

Chris said...

D'Arcy Thompson sounds fascinating! Thanks for alerting me to him.

Laura Gibbs said...

hi Chris, D'Arcy Thompson is MARVELOUS. His Glossary of Greek Birds is out of copyright so you can find it online - it is a work of absolute genius. He also did a Glossary of Greek Fishes, too. He is able to bring together all the ancient poets, plus the natural history writers, combined with his own keen study of the life sciences. I discovered his Latin textbook quite by accident when I was researching this proverb; I think he must have been a delightful teacher! :-)

Anonymous said...

The WIKI reference is actually for SIR D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), son of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1829-1902). "Scalae Novae" was published in 1866, the labor of the latter.

Laura Gibbs said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for this correction; I had to laugh because I heard someone give a paper on Thompson in a graduate seminar (which is where I first learned about him), who I guess had jumbled the two of them together. I had no idea they were in the dual number, so to speak. I am really grateful! I will admit I had found it kind of staggering that one man had done all that we were told about in that seminar paper... now I realize that amazement was well-founded! :-)
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.